Efforts to find missing persons strengthened

Missing-person cases with website


CLEVELAND — Cuyahoga County officials said Thursday that they will strengthen efforts to locate missing people after the discovery of three women who said they were held captive in a home there for about a decade.

The county is launching a Web site about unresolved cases and plans to hire three people to focus on them, County Executive Ed Fitz-Gerald said.

The announcement was made 10 days after 911 calls led police to a home where they found Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight a few miles from where they separately disappeared between 2002 and 2004.

Neighbors and relatives have said they were shocked by allegations that the women were taken and held captive by the homeowner, Ariel Castro, who is charged with kidnapping and rape and is expected to plead not guilty.

Mr. FitzGerald said the discovery prompted officials to expedite previously determined plans to focus more resources on such cases.

The new initiative will address a gap in information-sharing for police, the public, and families of the missing, he said.

The county sheriff’s department will add two deputies dedicated to missing-person cases and hire a liaison to update the new Web site, help local law enforcement exchange case information, and ensure that cases don’t fall through the cracks.

The city of Cleveland has about 110 unresolved cases, or roughly one-tenth of the state total, and it’s hard to determine how many people are missing throughout the county because it hasn’t had a central location for that information, Mr. FitzGerald said.

The Web site is intended to fill that void and will allow the public to look up case information, report tips, get advice on what to do if someone disappears, and print posters about those who are missing.

Mr. FitzGerald estimated the cost of the initiative, including the dedicated staff, will be about $250,000 annually.

Sheriff Frank Bova emphasized the initiative applies throughout the county, not just in Cleveland.

In recent years, the city’s police have overhauled how they handle missing-person and sex crime investigations based on recommendations issued after the remains of 11 women were found in 2009 at the home of Anthony Sowell, who is now appealing his death sentence in the women’s killings.

In the wake of that case, police created a missing-persons unit and a related website, trained officers in best practices for those investigations, and broadened the domestic-violence division of the city prosecutor’s office to include sex crimes.